Next week, Minnesota Twins prospect Kyle Gibson will leave Fort Myers, Fla., for a weeklong mission trip in the Dominican Republic. After that, the 25-year-old right-hander will spend as much time with his family as he can this offseason and take his mind off of baseball, at least for a little while.
After all, this upcoming spring will be a big one for Gibson.
The Minnesota Twins’ 2009 first-round pick has yet to pitch in the major leagues. He missed almost all of the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Now, he’ll be in the mix for a spot in the rotation on a Minnesota team that desperately needs starting pitching.
With that said, the 25-year-old Gibson won’t take anything for granted once he joins the rest of the Twins pitchers in spring training.
“I had a chat with (Twins general manager) Terry Ryan and the front office. They essentially told me to go out there and keep doing what I’m doing and get guys out and hopefully earn a spot on the 25-man roster as they go north,” Gibson said this week in a phone interview. “Everybody that goes into big league spring training has that goal. Everybody wants to break with the team. As soon as the Twins let me know what my role is, I’m going to work as hard as I can to be one of those guys that’s able to fill his role and hopefully go up north after spring training.”
Gibson was on track to perhaps break camp with the Twins last spring — that is, until he started experiencing arm pain while pitching with Triple-A Rochester late during the 2011 season. After trying to work through some discomfort, it was ultimately discovered that Gibson needed reconstruction surgery on his elbow.
The mere uttering of “Tommy John surgery” yields plenty of reactions in baseball these days. Of course, there’s the knowledge of the timeline associated with the surgery. Typically, it takes about a year for a player to return to pitching.
But in this day and age, baseball players — usually, pitchers — have proven that it’s possible to come back just as strong as they were before the surgery, if not stronger. Gibson learned that lesson recently while pitching in the Arizona Fall League. The right-hander said his velocity on his fastball was where he wanted it to be and that his fastball and sinker had the same movement as they did before his surgery.
Gibson made six starts for the Peoria Javelinas and went 3-2 with a 5.40 ERA. In those three wins, he allowed just one run, struck out 19 batters and walked two in 13 innings. In the two losses, he struck out five batters but allowed nine runs in 5 1/3 total innings.
“I had some good outings, had some bad outings,” he said. “I’m still working on my consistency after getting back from surgery.”
The consistency may still be a work in progress, but the biggest thing for Gibson was that he emerged from the Arizona Fall League with a clean bill of health. In the AFL and several starts in the minors late in the season, he pitched about 70 innings combined.
“He did a nice job,” Ryan said of Gibson’s performance in the AFL. “He stayed healthy and he didn’t miss any turns, had no setbacks in his rehab and therapy and so forth. We were pleased to get him up to about 75 innings for the year, which is where we had hoped to get him to.
“He’ll come into major league camp on the roster and fight for a spot.”
Twins fans will likely be clamoring for Gibson to make the rotation out of spring training. In 2012, Minnesota’s rotation had the worst ERA in the American League, and the Twins currently have one pitcher (left-hander Scott Diamond) who appears to have a spot secured in the 2013 rotation.
But Gibson knows he’ll have his work cut out for him. The biggest thing he’ll have to prove is that he’s healthy. The innings he pitched in the minors and the Arizona Fall League were a good start, but it will be a different story when he’s facing major league hitters during the spring.
If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training, Gibson will simply use it as motivation.
“I think the Twins have always been really upfront with me. They’ve always said, ‘Whenever you’re ready, then we’ll call you up,'” Gibson said. “If they think I’m not ready, they’ll send me to Rochester or wherever they send me and they’ll give me the things I need to work on. If that’s the case, I’ll go there and work hard and try to get up there as fast as I can and hopefully make an impact and help the team win.
“Just because I don’t get sent up north, it’s not something for me to get disappointed in or pout about because that means I just have things I need to work on and it’s time to get to work.”